Decoding Xi’s "Tone-Changing" U.S.-China Speech in San Francisco
President Xi Jinping delivered a 34-minute major speech at the Welcome Dinner, co-hosted by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, the U.S.-China Business Council, the Asia Society, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, after his Woodside bilateral summit with U.S. President Joe Biden in San Francisco on November 15, 2023.
From his March remarks about the U.S.-led West's comprehensive containment, encirclement, and suppression of China ("以美国为首的西方国家对我实施了全方位的遏制，围堵，打压"), to this November speech of three “will not change” — “No matter how the global landscape evolves, the historical trend of peaceful coexistence between China and the United States will not change. The ultimate wish of our two peoples for exchanges and cooperation will not change. The expectations of the whole world for a steadily growing China-U.S. relationship will not change”, we can discern a remarkable change in tone. This shift will, first and foremost, convey a positive signal to the Chinese system, and to a certain extent, a broader American and global audiences.
The Core Messages (3-4-5-6)
The speech renews Xi’s three-point framework for the U.S.-China relationship for the foreseeable future:
- “Mutual respect” — this is clearly the number one priority — meaning China accepts and respects the American system, and the United States needs to accept and respect the “path of socialism with Chinese characteristics” under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CCP), with Xi Jinping at its core.
- “Peaceful coexistence” is “a baseline that China and the United States should hold on” — which also leads to the primary question as Xi puts it: “are we adversaries, or partners?” This really concerns the endgame for U.S.-China relations - “peaceful coexistence”, “managed strategic competition”, or something else?
- “Win-win cooperation” — more examples of such mutually beneficial cooperation (a better translation) are discussed in the bilateral summit (see below and more in links). And honestly, if our goals are to increase cooperation, establish more guardrails, and add additional buffer zones, the coming months may present a unique opportunity that we won’t see again in the near future.
It adds a new four-part vision for the future of the U.S.-China relationship:
- The belief that the hope for the U.S.-China relationship resides in the people.
- The understanding that its foundation is rooted in both societies.
- The recognition that its future is dependent on both its youth.
- The acknowledgment that its vitality springs from local levels.
The speech also outlines Xi’s five core domestic and international priorities:
- “Achieving modernization for all Chinese citizens, meaning China still has a long way to go. There is a sense of humility here.
- Realizing common prosperity across the entire Chinese population. Xi told his story of seven years living with farmers and villagers in poverty, showing why common prosperity matters to him.
- Promoting both material and cultural-ethical advancement for every Chinese individual. Interestingly, Xi mentioned the purpose of the Global Civilization Initiative is to “address the imbalance between material and cultural advancement,” meaning, I think, more Chinese civilizational advancement on the global stage, to make it safer for the Chinese Party-state.
- Committing to sustainable development, with a reaffirmation of the 2030 and 2060 goals. It is encouraging to hear President Xi saying: ‘’We have made the pledge, and we will honor it”, particularly under the current economic circumstances.
- Pursuing peaceful development, aimed at fostering a community with a shared future for mankind. It is notable that Xi emphasized "the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation cannot be achieved without a peaceful and stable international environment.”
Here are six interesting highlights:
- The Flying Tigers: Xi honors the historic Sino-American alliance, stating, “The Chinese people never forget the Flying Tigers … These stories … which have stood the test of blood and fire, will be passed on from generation to generation.”
- 2911 Bonnie Drive: Recalling his first stay in the U.S. (at that address), the Dvorchaks in Iowa, “was my first face-to-face contact with the Americans,” Xi reflects, “For me, they represent America…”. Xi continued, “The tree of our peoples’ friendship has grown tall and strong; and it can surely withstand the assault of any wind or storm,” and “the more difficulties there are, the greater the need for us to forge a closer bond between our peoples and to open our hearts to each other, and more people need to speak up for the relationship.”
- People-to-People Bonding: Xi stresses strengthening ties, enhancing people-to-people exchanges, increasing direct flights, initiating high-level tourism dialogues, and simplifying visa procedures.
- Youth Exchanges: Xi also announces plans to invite 50,000 young Americans to China for exchange programs over five years, as a very concrete set of deliverables.
- U.S.-China Counternarcotics Cooperation: A new working group will be established to address drug abuse, with Xi expressing, “China sympathizes deeply with the American people, especially the young, for the sufferings that Fentanyl has inflicted upon them.” This represents a direct response to the various complaints from all sectors of the American state and society directed toward the Chinese government.
- Pandas’ Return: Xi commits to panda conservation cooperation, acknowledging their role as symbols of friendship, notably for Californians and the San Diego Zoo. After the “dumb power” move to withdraw the pandas, this is a step towards smartening up.
What to Watch
Xi’s November speech in San Francisco signifies a notable shift in U.S.-China relations from China’s perspective, to “renew China-U.S. friendship”, to “advance China-U.S. relations”, and to “make even greater contributions to world peace and development”. However, how it will be received and responded to in Washington D.C. remains to be seen.
See the full video of the speech:
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6vT_fQllwM (In Chinese with English subtitles)
See the full text of the speech:
- https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/zyxw/202311/t20231116_11181541.shtml (In Chinese)
- https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/zxxx_662805/202311/t20231116_11181557.html (In English)
See more official readouts of the bilateral summit outcomes: